Want to be happy? Sometimes there is no place like home.
My wife recently spent a long weekend touring eastern Oregon with two of her co-workers. They drove from small town to small town, shopping for antiques and visiting museums.
On Saturday -- with an early October snow falling outside -- Kris and her friends stopped to eat lunch at La Laguna in the small town of Joseph (population 1,054). As part of the worst job I ever had, I spent several weeks selling insurance door-to-door in Joseph, so I know the locals are friendly. Such was the case at La Laguna. Kris's party struck up a conversation with their waiter.
He told them that he was raised in Joseph. When he was a young man, he moved to Portland; the big city seemed exciting. He had a good time, and is glad to have had the experience, but after a few years he moved back to small-town life in Joseph.
"Life is simpler here," he said. "And it's less expensive. When I lived in Portland, I couldn't save anything; there was always something to spend my money on. There just aren't as many temptations here."
If you want to sleep better, readers say, dump your debt.
Frugal people sleep better.
Some readers say they're frugal because they love finding great deals, but most have more complex reasons. They're thrifty now to meet future goals: a car, a house, a family. They've chosen to reject hyperconsumerism. They're called to careers (e.g. the arts) that are fulfilling but require careful money management. Or they simply enjoy the peace of mind that comes with having an emergency fund.
The lesson: Wait before you splurge on that new toy.
A year ago, a regular reader who calls herself "SC CDF" really wanted an ice-cream maker. These days she can barely remember having wanted it. She proposed that we write down what we want and then check back later to see if we still want it. That's why in April I started a Smart Spending message board thread called "What do you want? Will you still want it a year from now?"
Readers posted their burning desires: a great camera and printer, electronic gadgets, new cookware, computers, automobiles, furniture. Most of those who reported back later on the updated thread said they did not get what they wanted. But all of them were OK with that.
If it's not stinky or stained, why wash it?
I've got a dirty little secret: sometimes I wear a shirt twice before washing it.
Before you hold your nose and run screaming from the room, hear me out. I'm not talking about a shirt in which I've done a day's worth of hard manual labor in the hot sun. It's usually a shirt I've worn for half a day or less.
The other day, for example, I didn't dress to leave the house until close to lunchtime. Before that I was the stereotypical freelance writer sitting around in sweatpants and a T-shirt my daughter bought to celebrate entering the eighth grade. (My daughter is now 29. Freelancers really don't care what they look like.)
Don't expect big smiles when you show up with jars of pennies.
Putting all your change in a jar each night is a time-honored frugal hack. One guy bought himself a new pickup after setting aside coins for years. A Smart Spending message board reader named "Amberstorck" wasn't aiming that high -- she just wanted to save some money.
But now she's having trouble unloading the lucre. Local grocery stores refused her rolled change. Her bank charges a 6% coin-counting fee. "What is the point of saving coins if nobody will take them?" Amber wrote in a message board thread.
The fact is, banks are legally allowed to charge a counting fee or to refuse to accept Miracle Whip jars full of pennies and nickels.
Your frugal bounty can help those who need it the most.
I recently bought two backpacks, five packages of notebook paper and five boxes of crayons at Office Depot for $3.25 including tax, thanks to the magic of recycled printer cartridges and loss leaders. Then I went to Walgreens and bought two-pocket folders and five-packs of mechanical pencils for a nickel apiece, plus two-packs of gel pens and eight-packs of washable markers that will be free after rebate.
I don't have kids at home. I'm buying these for other people's children. You can, too, and I sure hope you will.
Just as Christmas items show up in stores long before it's time to trim the tree, "back to school" specials are making inroads earlier and earlier. Back in the first week of July, Staples was offering things like 10-packs of pencils and small bottles of hand sanitizer for 1 cent each.
Don't let the fine print stop you from saving.
A recent Safeway ad had a coupon for a dozen eggs for $1, a swell deal these days. I consider eggs a fridge staple because they make a quick and cheap light supper. Besides, finals are coming up, and I always fortify myself with bacon, eggs and toast on exam mornings.
However, the coupon's fine print -- there's always fine print -- said shoppers needed to spend at least $10 to use the dollar-a-dozen coupon. The thing was, I didn't need $10 worth of stuff. Just eggs. But I wasn't about to let a teeny-tiny disclaimer keep me from getting cheap protein. I have a frugal hack for just such an occasion.
These might entertain adults, too.
We have to admire anyone who can come up with a list of 90 tips about anything, let alone ways to keep kids occupied in productive ways. Debbie Dragon's list at Destroy Debt is incredibly creative and amazingly simple.
In fact, we want to try some of these because they sound like so much fun. There's "target squirting." Put plastic cups on a fence post or a person's head and squirt them off with a water gun or simple plastic water bottle. She also suggests a fun game to play with water balloons. (We're in!)
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